Thursday, July 20, 2017

Timon of Athens - Stratford Festival

William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens has never been a favorite of mine. Even seeing it performed quite well recently at the Stratford Festival did little to enhance its appeal.

Timon is the story of a man who puts on lavish parties and is overly generous in his gift-giving (receiving a gift he will automatically reciprocate and give a gift to the gift-giver) until one day he discovers he’s broke and in debt.

Timon sends his servants out to his so-called friends who have benefited from his generosity to appeal to them for financial assistance. One by one the friends deny him, each one giving an excuse why they cannot lend him money.

Eventually Timon goes somewhat depressed and mad. Much of the second half of the play he rails against mankind to anyone who comes across him at his cave in the woods.
Timon’s problem was his over-generosity. His friends were only friends as long as he gave them things. He did not give to the poor but rather to those who did not truly need his generosity. There is no talk of Christian charity since Shakespeare placed the play in ancient Athens.

Timon of Athens seems to be a weak combination of Titus Andronicus (both have a dinner scene of revenge) and Coriolanus (both have a banished general who turns on his banishers). There do not seem to be very many memorable lines from Timon, but it does generate thoughtful contemplation on the subjects of money, friendship and mental illness.

The Stratford Festival theatre production of Timon was very good. The pomp dinner scene was splendid followed by a lascivious dance. It is practically decadent.
Joseph Ziegler was good as Timon, a very demanding role for a man of 64.
Ben Carlson as the insulting philosopher Apemantus reminded me of his role as the Fool in Twelfth Night a few years ago.  
Timon of Athens is a timeless tale and a sad story with a tragic end.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Roman Era Mystery

These Forty Days

With Lent upon us my thoughts turn to my Roman detective story The Case of the Empty Tomb which I wrote over a dozen years ago.

I fashioned it after the hard-boiled detective stories of Hammett and Chandler.

The story revolves around Tribune Claudius Maximus who is ordered to investigate the rumors circulating around  Jerusalem of a recently crucified Jew who has been seen alive.

If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of a film released in 2016 called Risen. Here's the premise: In 33 AD, a Roman Tribune in Judea is tasked to find the missing body of an executed Jew rumored to have risen from the dead. (I took this from IMDb)

When I first saw the trailer for this movie I was stunned at how similar it was to my story. I was so stunned that I could not bring myself to go see it.

I secretly was hoping that someone somewhere would see how much the movie resembled my story, but no one did.

But this is the Lenten Season when we could all turn our thoughts to Christ. If anyone is looking to a good detective story about Christ, I would recommend The Case of the Empty Tomb.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Raymond Chandler and Shakespeare

The Big Sleep

I first read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Knopf 1939) when I was a teenager, and to be truthful, I didn't like it. I much preferred the whitewashed movie version with Humphrey Bogart (Warner Bros. 1946).

I still like the movie but being much older I can appreciate Chandler's writing.

I was just re-reading The Big Sleep and was struck by a passage from the last chapter when the protagonist, Marlowe speaks of old Gen. Sternwood lying on his deathbed.

'What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.'

These lines reminded me of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2, when Macbeth is speaking how the murdered Duncan is past caring.

'Duncan is in his grave.
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.'
 Raymond Chandler obviously knew his Shakespeare. In Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler's iconic detective, Philip Marlowe (Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare's greatest contemporary rival)  makes a reference to 'Shakespeare's  Second Murderer in that scene in King Richard III.'
It seems that both Macbeth and Philip Marlowe believe that death is the end of one's life where we do not have to account for anything we have done in this world, and we are safe from any type of consequence. Both of them are quite wrong, of course, and there will be judgement  - The Big Judgement.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Henry V and St. Crispin

Tomorrow is October 25. It is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and it is also St. Crispin’s Day. Both of these events are tied together in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. After invading France and losing one quarter of his men, the young English king Henry finds his path blocked by the French army that outnumber him 5 to 1. In his famous speech to his men before battle Henry eludes to St. Crispin a number of times. 

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

 And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Then call we this the field of Agincourt,
Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus.
Of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, we know only that they were twins, possibly only fraternal. They preached the Gospel to the Gauls, supporting themselves by working nights as shoemakers. Around the year 286, the governor Rictius Varus tried to drown them, and when that failed they were beheaded. Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers. Their feast day is October 25.

This month of All Saint celebrates holiness not as a spectator sport, like fans cheering the holy souls from the bleachers and then saying, "We won!" Those who only observe from the sidelines the spiritual battles in which our culture is now engaged, would be like those who were not at Agincourt.                                                                         

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sin in Hamlet

The day after we saw Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, my wife Susan and I were walking along the charming streets of Stratford talking about the production. Susan made an astute observation that had somehow eluded me. She said how in the play one sin spreads through the characters like the plague leading to still more sin.

Claudius kills the father of Hamlet who then seeks revenge. In his so-called madness, Hamlet kills Polonius. The murder of her father by her boyfriend leads Ophelia to madness and death. Prompted by Claudius, Laertes seeks Hamlet’s death to revenge his father, and by the end of the play all the main characters are dead. They don’t call it tragedy for nothing.

One of the reasons Hamlet is so relevant today is that the characters ring true. Hamlet knows and admits his sinful nature to Ophelia.

I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all;
Even Claudius has a moment of honesty when he is alone.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, A brother’s murder.
O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Yet Hamlet knows that man, despite his sinful nature, is God’s greatest and special creation.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!
When speaking to his mother, Hamlet realizes the wickedness of sin and the redeeming power of forgiveness.

Confess yourself to heaven; Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;

Hamlet encourages us to get rid of whatever in our lives is sinful. (And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.)

        O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

       O, throw away the worser part of it, And live the purer with the other half.

Laertes proudly states that he will risk damnation for his revenge. When he leans Hamlet has killed Laertes’ father, Claudius asks:
What would you undertake
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
Laertes answers, To cut his throat i' th' church.

To which Claudius replies, Revenge should have no bounds.

Murderous revenge, ambitious coveting, and despair are all rife in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Humans are sinful creatures. My wife is right. In Hamlet sin begets more sinning. Hamlet is a great play for the very reason that we can learn from it.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival

One of the great performances at the Stratford Festival this year is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This Battle of the Sexes comedy is performed admirably by the husband and wife team of Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson who I had also seen as Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. In The Taming of the Shrew, Hay and Carlson have some great interaction, much of it physical. She even gets to slap her husband and spit in his face in every performance.

Practically every character in The Taming of the Shrew has a comedic role and they are well played in this production.

The play itself may draw criticism from some groups who think Petruchio is only trying to break the spirit of Katherina and bend her to his will, but what would these same groups think if it were a play about a woman trying to tame a loud-mouth boorish lout to be a gentleman and husband.

Though some might think that Petruchio is only trying to make Kate obedient, he is actually showing her how churlish and uncouth she is being. He does this by out-shrewing the shrew.

Basically, Kate is a bully, and we all know the public’s attitude regarding bullies. She bullies her family and anyone who comes within reach of her. Kate has boughten into the axiom that one must be strong, overbearing to dominate people to her will. She does not know what love is. Kate does indeed have passion, but it is misdirected.

Only when Kate is broken of all her shrewish passions can she then love. Her speech at the end of the play is magnificent.

 Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance commits his body To painful labour both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks and true obedience; Too little payment for so great a debt. Such duty as the subject owes the prince Even such a woman oweth to her husband; And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, And not obedient to his honest will, What is she but a foul contending rebel And graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for peace; Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway, When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

Is there a man alive who wouldn’t cherish such a woman and devote his entire life to her?

To paraphrase Hamlet:

Give me that woman
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear her
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hamlet at the Stratford Festival (part one)

My wife and I just returned from a another great season at the Stratford Festival. One of the shows we saw was Hamlet, perhaps the greatest English plays ever written. The title role was well performed by Jonathan Goad. The role is quite demanding since the title character is in practically every scene, and though I believe the play was edited a bit, the total production was about three and one half hours long.

I was expecting a bit more of a melancholy Dane, and found Goad’s Hamlet smiled a bit too much. Goad seemed to lack that seething unrest that lies just beneath the surface even when he is trying to be happy.

Tom Rooney was excellent comic relief as Polonius, while Geraint Wyn Davies and Seana McKenna were good as Claudius and the ghost, and Hamlet’s mother respectively.

The scene that caught my attention and stayed with me most was Adrienne Gould as the mad Ophelia. Her transformation from innocence to madness was poignantly tragic and heart wrenching.

The sets were minimalistic consisting of different size black blocks. The big ones reminded me of the black monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

I’ll talk more about Shakespeare’s Hamlet in my next blog.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon